Dear Friends in Christ:
When I arrived at our parish in January of 1995, I discovered a people with a serious desire to discover Christ in forming community, reaching out to the periphery and being formed by paying attention to needs and circumstances. The “dinner theater” was my first experience of meeting the talent, commitment and level of belonging that would continue to unfold over the course of time. There have been a litany of such realities with the renovation of the school/church, parish center, Organ, block party hospitality, liturgical life, outreach to the poor through the door ministry, concerts, opening young people in formation and the list continues with countless opportunities to engage in the Church – which is life. This past Sunday, 36 teams gathered for the “bean bag” friendly competition, staying together with a human connection and encountering Christ in the midst of being companions.
My first Easter Vigil brought me into connection with the Sudanese community as we baptized some of our new friends from the other side of the world. I recall Doctor Hal Wente and his patient walk with the refugees that had come knocking on our door, along with Deacon Jerry Freetly and others who carried the banner of welcome into the RCIA formation. In the Spring of 2005, I was visited by some of our Sudanese friends who asked that we consider sponsoring Father John Lugala Lasuba, a priest living in New Jersey; he had received political asylum from the USA in light of threats to his life. After a complex journey with the Immigration Services, I said “yes” and he arrived here on a bus, one day before he was to return to what was Sudan at that time. We rescued a friend from a war-torn country and his waiting heart was focused on a new country, South Sudan; in 2011 that reality happened.
This newest country in the world needed a school in Pukuka, near Yei and parishioners began to explore this possibility through conversations and very hard work. This challenge called for creativity, fund raising, on-site visits and a host of engagements that brought us to the Dedication of the St. John the Evangelist School in South Sudan which occurred this past Spring 2016. The generosity of our parish and the broader community of Rochester and the diocese generated a new life that was evidenced in the faces of 230 children attending our school (we were moving towards a capacity of 350).
The complex situation in South Sudan, which you can learn about by a simple google of “South Sudan News,” has brought the school to a close at the present moment. I preached about this last weekend, you can find the podcast of my homily at sj.org. The Seeds of Wisdom Board has sent a communication also and together we will continue to give updates.
As I mentioned in my homily, the origin of our SJE School in Pukuka, South Sudan, is Christ. The arrival of Father John and all that has developed is available because we are following Christ. This must be our posture for the future. All is not lost because I have a certainty that Christ Jesus remains at the center of our work, generosity and a future full of hope. When you hear about Dictators in the world who fill their bank accounts with millions while people starve, think of our situation as this is exactly what has happened to us: oil, power and war, with no awareness of real people. They pick up their simple belongings and begin to walk as their history of war leads them to be riddled with fear. We are beggars. Let us join in prayer and not lose heart.
Gratefully in the Lord Jesus,
Father Jerry Mahon